Thursday, September 9, 2010

B-slapping a random Epic Pooh/Moorcock supporter

Typically I stay away from engaging in debate on sites like Youtube, knowing the caliber of response I'm likely to get. But in this case I just couldn't resist (I'm Rutgerhauer 666, still waiting for a response in the comments section that won't be coming any time soon).

Someone asked me once why I've taken up the crusade against Epic Pooh and other anti-Tolkien essays. "Why would you waste your time on something 30 years old?" The reason is simple: People still believe this crap. Epic Pooh has been cited approvingly by the likes of China Mieville and used as a basis of misguided criticism of Tolkien. And it still is today. But because Michael Moorcock wrote it, it must be true, right?

In fact, Epic Pooh is a shallow, surface-level ad hominem attack on a far more subtle and complex work than its detractors realize. It's a political screed and fails to engage the text of The Lord of the Rings or any of Tolkien's works on a meaningful level.

It comes down to this: You can choose to believe the unfounded opinion of essays like Epic Pooh, or you can examine the facts in Tolkien's stories. When I see it held up as evidence of Tolkien's faults on Youtube or Amazon.com or elsewhere--or when I'm feeling the need to blow off some steam in a futile and meaningless crusade for truth--I'm going to set the facts straight.

The Lord of the Rings ignores death and forces a happy ending upon us? Really, Michael?

(Note that Moorcock doesn't actually discuss Epic Pooh in this clip, it just comes up in the comments section).

30 comments:

Lagomorph Rex said...

I feel that essay, while not as damaging to Tolkien as Dark Valley Destiny, Miscast Barbarian or Lovecraft: A Biography... It still deserves to be listed amongst those Hatchet jobs..

Personally, I feel it is one thing for a Literary critic to take part in literary criticism.. but when one author purposefully criticizes another author it just seems to be.. unprofessional..

David J. West said...

Right on Brian, Lagomorph.

I've read a number of these just to hear people out, like Pullman's railing on C.S. Lewis for example and as unbiased as I can be about it, seem's to always come back to a jealousy issue, a haters gotta hate kinda thing.

It may be as simple as they know they won't be attain that immortality the forefathers have.

I'd love to see a knockdown dragout fight with REH, Tolkien and Lewis vs. Moorcock, Morgan and Pullman.

David J. West said...

I meant to give the losers DeCamp too.

Lagomorph Rex said...

I was going to say that having an Ice house pugilist and two great war veterans vs those other three didn't seem to be really fair..

Talysman said...

In defense of Moorcock, he's not really slagging off on Tolkien as on his imitators, and C. S. Lewis, and the tone and attitude that a number of British fantasy writers were copying. He says: "Tolkien does, admittedly, rise above this sort of thing on occasions... he could, at his best, produce prose much better than that of his Oxford contemporaries who perhaps lacked his respect for middle-English poetry."

So, he's not fond of Tolkien and objects to sentimentalizing shopkeepers, but mostly he's griping more about people who talk down to children and use a very even-out, unengaging writing style.

Brian Murphy said...

Talysman: I very much disagree, and without offending you, you had probably better go back and re-read the piece (if you can get through it; I have a hard time stomaching Epic Pooh).

Moorcock is not griping about authors who talk down to children; he's claiming that Tolkien and other writers of his ilk are guilty of coddling adults with child-like tales.

Seriously, if you think Moorcock is not slagging Tolkien here, I'd hate to see an actual attack. Look at page 2 of the article: LOTR is "deep-rooted in its infantalism, Winnie the Pooh posing as an epic." It's "a pernicious confirmation of the values of a declining nation with a morally bankrupt class whose cowardly self-protection is primarily responsible for the problems England answered with the ruthless logic of Thatcherism." Or from page 5: "But to introduce Tolkien's fantasy into such a debate is a sad comment on our standards and our ambitions. Is it a sign of our dumber times that Lord of the Rings can replace Ulysses as the exemplary book of its century?"

Yes, Epic Pooh is pretty much a nasty savaging of LOTR. You're right that Tolkien isn't Moorcock's only target, but he's certainly front and center for his vitriol.

Eric D. Lehman said...

Every time I'm feeling too good about the world, every time the poetry of existence fills my heart with joy, I just go to the comments sections on youtube. That straightens me out really quick about the human project.

Atom Kid said...

I also left a reply, under SonofThor73. When the criticism is dishonest, it deserves an honest refutation.

Brian Murphy said...

Nice work Atom Kid.

David/Lagomorph: Yeah, I'd put odds on the tag-team consisting of two WWI veterans and a boxer over those three anyday.

And of course, they're better writers, too.

Lagomorph Rex said...

you obviously touched a nerve at some point as it looks as if some of your comments have been redacted by google...

Eric D. Lehman said...

We must battle against these barbarians! Let's try to elevate the youtube comments to the level on the Silver Key...

I think several of us, at least, have bigger mouthpieces to turn to, as well, and I personally plan to write a full refutation of Moorcock. Of course, Brian already has a voice in the community, and I think he's doing a fine job on these sites to clear the air.

I'll keep convincing the dozens of kids taking my science fiction and creative writing classes every year. They shall grow strong in their love for Tolkien, and keep the fight throughout the 21st century.

T. Everett said...

Weirdly, what bugs me nearly as much as everything else is the phrase, "Epic Pooh". I like Pooh, and it bothers me to see him used pejoratively. At least, every time I see that title I can imagine what a real Epic Pooh would be like - "Come on, Piglet, we must experience the glory of taking this beehive!"

And then they charge over the hill and the bees are as big as VWs.

Anyway, good show Brian for helping dispel unfounded criticism.

Eric D. Lehman said...

T. Everett - you made me laugh out loud.

I love that idea.

migellito said...

Agreed Brian. I am quite a major Moorcock fan, but have always taken exception to his long-held anti-Tolkienism. Their writing styles are quite distinct, and don't well bear critical comparison.

It's unfortunate that being an iconoclast in Britain seems to require the refutation of pre-industrial ruralism.

Anonymous said...

Why is the ultimate good for humans and hobbits to be ruled by a half-elven aristocracy?

I got the idea that Moorcock was attacking the political and moral basis of the story. Compare the attitudes of Moorcock's characters who hold political authority to the "divine right" thing going on in LotR and I am sure that you will see where the argument is coming from.

T. Everett said...

Personally, I've always felt that "ultimate good" was not that the Hobbits were being ruled by the kings (who, if you recall, were long gone by the time of LotR), but they were ruled by themselves - they voluntarily followed the rules "because the were The Rules, ancient and just" (quote paraphrased), and for the most part needed no oversight whatsoever. Even at the end when Aragorn is restored, his rule over the Shire is largely nominal and ceremonial. Tolkien's ideal society, in fact, is not monarchist or aristocratic but a sort of proto-agrarian-anarchist, at least in a legal/political sense.

Scott said...

Brian,

It doesn't matter how old an inflammatory essay is...DeCamp's Dark Valley Destiny was around for quite a while before folks started questioning it. I'm not a huge Tolkien fan, but I know how I feel about DeCamp's bullshit on REH. Good for you.

Scott said...

Brian,

It doesn't matter how old an inflammatory essay is...DeCamp's Dark Valley Destiny was around for quite a while before folks started questioning it. I'm not a huge Tolkien fan, but I know how I feel about DeCamp's bullshit on REH. Good for you.

ancientvaults said...

I have never found the work of the detractors, whose work I read after Tolkien, to ever be as compelling as J.R.R. Tolkien's (or Howard's or Lovecraft's for that matter). Strange, that?:)

Brian Murphy said...

Anonymous: Aragorn is an exemplary leader, but the line of kings from which he is descended is not an ultimate good. Recall that the Numenoreans in the second age rebelled against the Valar, committed atrocities, and tried to sail to the Undying Lands, leading to their punishment. Not everyone who inherits the kingship is fit to serve.

Also, as T. Everett said, the "king" of Gondor is a distant, ceremonial figure for most peoples. The hobbits for instance elect a a chief official or "Mayor," a form of democracy.

David said...

Of course, since literary criticism is a very subjective field, another way to look at all of this is that, despite your own personal feelings in regards to Moorcock's assessment/non-assessment of Tolkien, that it strikes true for other people. Personally, I am a much bigger fan of Moorcock than Tolkien, and honestly found TLotR to be dreadfully banal, though I cannot say that I thought enough about it as I was reading it to put it into Moorcock's exact terms.

Brian Murphy said...

David: That's fine if you find LOTR banal, and of course enjoyment of a particular work is entirely subjective. And one can analyze works through various lenses, leading to different interpretations. But a critic who willfully ignores evidence in the text cannot expect to have his or her opinion go unchallenged. Literary criticism has to have some basis in fact and rigorous textual analysis or else it degenerates into the feelings of every individual reader and becomes meaningless.

I'm referring to Moorcock's assertions of what Lord of the Rings fails to do, when in fact any semi-attentive reader can find examples to the contrary right in the text itself. For example, Moorcock accuses LOTR of forcing a happy ending upon us and ignoring death: He fails to mention Frodo's mortal wounding, the departure of elves and magic, and the passing of the Third Age into a time of men. He takes Tolkien to task for fostering an attitude of insularity (all life outside of the Shire is dangerous and to be avoided), ignoring the fact that Bilbo and Frodo at times express disgust for its residents' provincialism and close-mindedness. In other words, Moorcock cherry-picks examples to make his argument. Epic Pooh also applies a ham-fisted political interpretation to a much more subtle work than its author realizes.

David said...

Brian:

I was an English major in Uni, and quite a good one, or so my professors told me, so I am aware of problems with all kinds of literary criticism. For my money, all critics shoehorn works into political niches, and cherry pick their examples to do so.

Brian Murphy said...

I'm not douting your literary credentials, David. I'm just trying to appeal to your sense of reason.

If I write an essay critical of the King James Bible and claim that it's a lesser work because it fails to address the possibility of resurrection, wouldn't you admit that my thesis is severely flawed?

Back to death: Tolkien used the elves as a metaphor for the problems inherent in deathlessness. The One Ring demonstrates what can occur with the unnatural prolongation of life. Death in Middle-Earth is a great gift given by Iluvatar, The One, but because Melkor shrouded it in mystery and corruption, men fear it. No mortal man knows what happens after death, but there exists the possiblity for hope and something greater beyond the great void.

I could go on, but I hope you see my point. For Moorcock to claim that Tolkien and LOTR ignore the problem of death is demonstrably false. It's sloppy, poor literary criticism on his behalf. I've cited the problems with Epic Pooh at length before and will continue to do so when people hold it up as a valid critique of Tolkien.

David said...

Truth be told, I think my original point is being lost in this conversation. I have read Epic Pooh, but it has been a while, and I cannot comment on any claims the man may have made in its length without looking back on it.

What I was getting at was that, I think certain people may have read Tolkien and not been totally enthralled with it, but then not taken the time to analyze why. Along comes Epic Pooh, they read it, and in the manner of sheep-people everywhere, decide that it is right, and this is why they were dissatisfied with TLotRs.

For my money, I simply found it boring, dry, largely lacking in humor, and overly dependent on the larger body of works that was supposed to back it up (not the piece's own fault, mind, more the after effect of listening to too many internet fans proclaim that one must read the Silmarilion [sp?] to understand what was going on). I did find The Hobbit to be a good sight better when I read it (several years after I read TLotRs), but I prefer the much more visceral writing of Moorcock and Anderson (iirc, part of Epic Pooh also dealt with why The Broken Sword was better mythology than TLotRs--and I agree completely--but that may have been another essay by Moorcock). Also, Gormenghast is a wonderful book that gets overshadowed by the good professor to often, but now I am off a=on tangents again. . .

Brian Murphy said...

Hi David, thanks for clarifying. Yours is a valid criticism and I know LOTR isn't everyone's cup of tea. I also love The Broken Sword and think it's criminally under-read, but don't put it quite at the level of Tolkien's best works.

I haven't read a lot of Moorcock, just the six original Elric books, but they didn't impress me overmuch (and not just because I loathe Epic Pooh). I liked Elric of Melnibone but the series declined with each successive book, with basically Elric fighting some new form of demon/monster and not much depth to speak of. I do enjoy the way Moorcock handles magic in the series--dark, wild, and dangerous.

Taranaich said...

Took me long enough to get around to this, but... Rutgerhauer 666? I doff my hat to you, Brian!

Brian Murphy said...

What can I say--I love Rutger Hauer, but numbers 1-665 were apparently taken by other Youtube accounts.

Yeah, sometimes I just need to slap around brainwashed Moorcock fans. It's petty of me and pointing out the shortcomings and blind spots of Epic Pooh is like shooting fish in a barrel, but there you have it.

Anonymous said...

I just read the "updated and revised" Epic Pooh on Revolution SF and I have to say it's laughable that Moorecock considers Rowling highly. The Potter books display as much classism as Tolkien ever did, perhaps more; less imagination; more turgid use of language; characters so dumb they ought not to be able to dress themselves; and worst of all, a continuously recycled, predictable plot.

Tolkien's flaws as an author are many. But then, so are Joyce's, so are Conrad's, so are Tolstoy's. And, to the point, so are Moorecock's—I've never been able to understand how someone could create interesting, inventive characters and worlds, and then write such dull stories about them.

Brian Murphy said...

Tolkien does have his flaws, yes, just like all writers do, but Moorcock has done a very poor job of "exposing" them in Epic Pooh. I've cited demonstrable evidence from the text (see: "Knocking some stuffing out of Epic Pooh") that many of his assertions are in fact flat-out wrong and contradict what Tolkien actually wrote.

Moorcock strikes me as someone who read LOTR once as a rebellious teenager in love with a Marxist view of the world, and then wrote Epic Pooh in reaction. It doesn't make a real effort to engage what's actually going on in the book, but is instead an attack on Tolkien's perceived politics (which I don't even think Moorcock gets right, either). He's describing "fatal flaws" that aren't even there.